Friday, April 25, 2008

Love Your Neighbor And Plant A Tree

(I wrote this article two years ago, but I think there is insight that is applicable for today)

Growing up, there were people I idolized and thought were the best human beings ever to come out of the womb. I admired Kevin Johnson of the Phoenix Suns for his work ethic and Christian faith. I thought the best of Mr. Fred Rodgers because of his integrity and sincerity. And now, when people say that they admire me or think the best of me, I’ve often wondered, why. I’m just like Kevin and Mr. Rodgers and the rest of humanity, born into flesh and bones but prone to sinful tendencies. One of those sinful tendencies that I want to see change in my heart and actions is my attitude towards those whose belief system is different from my own.

At first glance, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal of poking fun at someone else but the root issue is a matter of heart. We are willing to mock and ridicule someone because their ideas are foreign to our own, but what causes us do so? Looking inside my own heart, I know that I can be condescending because I can have the mind set of “I am holier than thou”. But I don’t think that it is my place to say that. What truly bothers me is that those in the name of Christ are at the forefront of this idea. We like to laugh at liberals, poke fun at fanatics, and we enjoy mockery at the expense of others.

However, my old camp of Christian/Conservativism is not only to one to blame for this action but humanity as a whole. I think GK Chesterton is credited with saying, "The test of a good religion is if you can make fun of it or not". When I was growing up, making fun of someone else's belief or conviction was on a strong taboo. We could fun other ways of having laughter or joy without poking fun at their ideals.

This was illustrated on full display a couple of years ago. I was taking a public speaking course. Many of the class times are spent in laughter because of the humorous stories that our teacher told, videos of students attempting to persuade their audience and of course the laughter that is on every man and woman’s voice. The joy got derailed when the topic of teenage driving came up, and I brought up the point that I still have my learner’s permit because I don't see the reason of having a car. A student proceeded to explain to me rather angrily that it is very simple to obtain a license even his sixteen year old sister was able to get hers and why couldn't a twenty year old guy obtain his?

After class my friend Jeff and I were discussing this very topic and we both agreed that the problem doesn't lie inside a building but rather inside the person. If you look at Jeff and I, some might assume that were are complete opposites but in reality we are lot more like than I am with most of my other friends. We both said in varying ways that the problem is that inside each and every person is a sin nature. We are all born with it and the only solution to it is through the blood of Christ. With his act on our behalf, we are able to not be judgmental of other people but do we truly act that way? All of these questions are rhetorical unless someone has an answer for them.

A biblical parable that I enjoyed listening to was the classic tale of the Good Samaritan. We are all familiar with it but now as an adult I’ve started to contemplate the story. How it is truly a shame that the first two men, the priest and Levite ignored him, but the Samaritan (who was despised by the Jewish people) took pity on him and helped him in his time of need. I think the illustration that helped my young mind was the classic McGee and Me video series. When I look out the window of the bus or when I’m riding with someone on to a destination, I’ve started to think, which character can I relate to the most? Could it be the man who was beaten to a bloody pulp, the priest who passed him on the other side of the road?, the Levite who did the same? Or finally the Samaritan who helped him in this crucial moment of life. I always thought that I could be the Samaritan because of the limited goodness that is my being but I think I would be like the first two men. However I know that with time I would become like my hero in the story.

What originally birthed this on my heart and mind was a discussion over the last few weeks with my roommate. I sort of combined my jumbled thoughts on an online discussion board and this is what my entry had said:

"Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?" And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets."

As I mentioned last week about loving God with our heart and mind, one area that I need to work on is to love my neighbor. Because lately, I’ve noticed in my own heart that I enjoy making fun of people whose beliefs are different from my own.Ranging from the person who believes in new age things to Muslims etc. it can manifest itself in small things even if I see someone who is overweight, wearing a rainbow bracelet or someone who is on the street pushing a shopping cart.

How often do I neglect these verses: Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse--Romans 12:14

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.--Matthew 5:43-45

I know that I want to experience change in this area of my life, do you? I'm going to start praying for those people. that God opens their eyes to the gospel. this verse gives me comfort: He (The Father) causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

One way I think we can begin to love our neighbor is love those within our community. Aristotle had the perspective that you cannot be fully human if you don't join the community. I’m not saying we should all go down to the town hall of our perspective towns and say “sign me up for the community events”. But look around you, which community are you a member of? For example, me. I am in a community of believers at my church, but my attendance is not enough. I serve when I can and engage many of the people who I interact with. Then I am a member of a community called College, in my classes, the people I talk to in the cafeteria, the people I run into in the breeze ways and in the library. I must say that I don’t interact with many people on the bus but time to time I do talk to the bus driver. Those are just a few of the communities that I am a member of, I’m sure that you can think of more. I am applying this in the area of a friendship I have with a Mormon at school. Even though both of us are good friends, we both know where each other's is coming from. He has invited him to the annual Mormon Easter Pageant and I've accepted this offer. Why? So I can show Christ's love to him.

Something to think about, if you are not a member of a community, you could very well be denying the blessing of the gifts that God has given you to encourage others.

Some of you might be thinking, but why did Paz mention planting a tree? Here’s why. I’ve heard the classic quote of Martin Luther saying that if he found out he was dying the following day, what would he do differently? His reply wasn't like the country song "I Wish You Lived Like You Were Dying" that is currently receiving much airplay over the last couple of weeks. I don't think that song illustrates what should be my perspective when thinking of these things.

Luther replied, I would plant a tree.

How amazing is that answer! He wouldn't go out and change the world, rather he would plant a tree.

I’ve started to think that would be a wonderful opportunity for an activity to do with my wife and when we have children, to plant trees with them as well. Oops I let the cat out of the bag, so if my future wife is reading this blog entry, please act surprised when I suggest we do it, okay?

I was talking to Jacob about this topic of community and he posed to me this question and I want to pose it to everyone:

“If these three remain, faith hope and charity, how do we show charity if we're outside of the community?”

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I agree so much with the spirit of this article, it's tough to make this comment (bravo Paz!).

Surely mockery of another's religion is not wrong altogether if we have prophetic examples? Elijah on Mt. Carmel is rather obvious. As are some of the comments of the OT prophets and psalms against God's "enemies," that is, us.

So, although the gist of what you are saying is fantastic, we cannot exclude the use of religious mockery altogether.

But, your final question/challenge certainly stands! :-)